How Do You Make Shred Passages More Musical?

I’ve gotten to a point in my playing where I can blaze through a couple of scalar patterns but a lot of the time it sounds mindless and completely separate from the piece of music I’m playing over.

I think Yngwie has a real knack for making fast passages sound very musical, how does he do it?

Is he always starting and ending a shred passage on a note of the relating chord hes playing over? Or is it more about his choice of bends between the faster parts?


I think you’re on the right track, based on the things you’re pointing to in your questions. And, there are probably a million ways to answer this. I’m not going to say I’m the most musical player, or for that matter even all that great at shredding, but I can make a few general observations.

  1. Music is all about tension and resolution, at it’s most functional level. To me, I see speed as a sort of form of tension, so think about speed as a musical texture that you can use to add tension, but use selectively to maximize its impact.
  2. What notes you resolve a fast run to is definitely part of this - doesn’t have to be a chord tone, necessarily, but knowing how the note you end a fast run on (if it’s to be sustained) is going to sound sustained across that chord is very important to musicality, and if the note is going to sound “resolved” after a fast run, or itself is going to create more tension you’ll then have to resolve some other way.
  3. I think another good way to add musicality in faster runs is to also think about rhythmic groupings - all your fast runs as 16th notes, or everything as 8th note triplets, begins to create a rhythmic uniformity to a solo. Yngwie is interesting in that he does a lot of odd-note groupings, but even that done consistently with a long run of 7:4 phrases can start to sound a little uniform. While adding fast runs to a song, mixing up HOW those fast runs are formed can make things more interesting. Likewise, always ending a fast run on the beat can make things start to seem uniform - something I’ve loved about Satriani’s legato playing is how he can do these long flowing scale runs that sort of meander around and pause briefly at unexpected - but musically sensible, with respect to the surrounding harmony – places in the groove.
  4. Bends, really good, accurate, and controlled bends, are huge., Vibrato is huge. dynamics, while more challenging with high gain, can also be huge, especially for someone like Yngwie where his tone isn’t so saturated that differences in pick attack get blurred. The very best shredders, I think it’s this kind of “touch on the guitar” stuff that sets them apart. No doubt helped by light strings and scallops, but Yngwie has a killer vibrato, and I’m a huge Satch fan but the thing that blew me away the first time I saw him live was his vibrato, not his legato.

Basically, I think anything you can do to make your playing less predictable can go a long way to making it more interesting, which - IMO - is another way of saying more musical.


Truth! Tasteful bends and vibrato can sell shredding!

I think another thing Yngwie does well is being somewhat ‘free’ in his timing. It doesn’t always line right up with the metronome…a little behind the beat, if you know what I mean. Then lastly, occasional slurs in otherwise all picked passages are a nice touch too. I love the sound of alternate picking (we wouldn’t all be here if we didn’t haha) but if we’re honest with ourselves, it tends to get a little robotic, if not carefully peppered with some feeling. Yngwie is great at this, so is Eric Johnson.


Thank you both for your great answers!

Play a bunch over backing tracks and learn to solo over chord tones. When you got that down, try incorporating scale runs to land on the chord tone.

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The variation in tempo, inflections, bends and vibrato are obvious and almost a given in the context of technique.

However I always try to use that to supplement melody and harmony, and I do that by humming (even in my head) melodies and use the most important notes as a sort of landmark of target notes.

It’s kind of a rough sketch of sorts, and all the little things are the colors you can use to spice it up. The very best musicians do both almost simultaneously.

I hate to be tautological but being musical does start with the musicality, not the shred, although it is a fantastic way of channeling it.

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I have limited talent but I take something musical from a great composer and make variations by adding notes while trying to remain true to the original, e.g., take some 1/4 notes and replace them with several 1/16ths, etc.

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Here are a couple of ideas that could help.

  1. Placement within the solo is important. Let’s say you have 8 bars to solo over. That could be 4, 2-bar phrases. The third of those phrases could be could be your shred phrase with more melodic material on either side. This provides tension/release (as someone mentioned above) as well as good contrast.

  2. In a kind of over-simplified way, you could also look at shred licks two different ways: there are moving licks (runs of scalar sequences, for example) and static licks (moving back and forth over the same pattern of notes - think Kirk Hammett’s solo in “Master of Puppets”). If you try one and it doesn’t work, try the other one.

  3. Combine both of the above approaches. Create a structure for your solo, decided where you want the shred lick, try out the two different kinds and see what works better.

  4. When you learn other players’ solos, learn the chords underneath them and see if you can find a pattern to when each player adds his/her shred patterns. I’ve found that players usually have their preferences. Are there certain places in each solo where shred is performed? Are there chord functions that lend themselves to shred? See what you can discover then try to copy it in an original work.